books

Fundamorphosis Blog Tour – right here, right now

The Fundamorphosis Blog Tour rolls on this week … except we’re not going anywhere right now. This installment of the blog tour happens right here with a guest post from my friend Van Latham. Van doesn’t have a blog of his own. And that is really unfortunate because Van is one of the most interesting and creative people I know. So, today, Van is borrowing my blog to post his review of Fundamorphosis. Read More…

Fundamorphosis Blog Tour – even Steelers fans are included God’s kingdom

The Fundamorphosis Blog Tour continues today with a stop by Brian Karcher’s blog Lambhearted Lion. Brian’s story interests me because, in many ways, it mirrors my own. I think we both feel a great sense of relief to know that we are not the only people in the world who have had these thoughts and feelings about the faith with which we grew up. In addition to Lambhearted Lion, Brian blogs at UBFriends and Just Being There. Read More…

Humor Over Hate

White Flour is an absolutely beautifully illustrated children’s book written by David LaMotte and illustrated by Jenn Hales. It that tells the true story of how the Coup Clutz Clowns effectively disrupted a Klu Klux Klan rally in Knoxville TN. As the story goes, when the Klan showed up for their march, they were met by a gaggle of Clowns dressed in colorful, exotic costumes. When the Klan began to shout “White Power,” the Clowns retaliated with a host of whimsical retorts, including “White Flour,” “White Flower,” “Tight Shower,” and, my favorite, “Wife Power.” Flummoxed by the unexpected opposition, the Klan ends up abandoning their march, and the Clowns celebrate with a parade of their own.

After it came in the mail, I sat and read White Flour with my eight-year-old daughter. As we got started, I had to explain to her who the KKK were and what they meant by “White Power.” She was a little freaked out to learn that there are people out there who would hate someone like her just because her skin is a darker tone. I was glad that her world hasn’t yet included this kind of blatant prejudice. And I was also glad that she thought the KKK members in the book looked stupid and cowardly underneath their white robes.


The story itself is endearing and charming, even if some of the rhymes are a bit forced and wooden. The illustrations make up for the rhymes, however. They are gorgeous. My daughter wanted to linger on many pages and look at the details.


Best of all, the message of White Flour is that humor can win over hate. In our culture of 24-hour cable news where it seems like people just constantly shout at one another, it was refreshing to read of a group making their point with irony and laughter. Nowadays it seems like everyone is angry. Maybe we can learn something from the Coup Clutz Clowns and from the biblical wisdom that a soft answer turns away wrath. Maybe there is a more effective way of diffusing our political and cultural opponents than shouting louder than them. Maybe there is a more effective way to bring about change than dropping bombs – literal and metaphorical – on people with whom we disagree. Maybe we need to learn to laugh at the absurdity in both ourselves and others.


White Flour – official website
David LaMotte – author
Jenn Hales – illustrator


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Book Reflection: The Pastor by Eugene Peterson

My dad gave me his copy of Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor, when he was here visiting this summer. It sat on my dresser for months. Patiently waiting. Symbolic of the vision of pastoral ministry sketched by Peterson in this book.

Peterson is most well-known as the translator of The Message and the author of several books, including the wonderful Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. But he doesn’t find his identity in these accomplishments. In his memoir, he finds his identity as the pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in BelAir MD. In The Pastor, he tells his story with humor and depth.


Clashing Visions of Pastoral Ministry
The contemporary vision of the pastorate is one that has been co-opted from the business world – pastor as CEO, pastor as manager, pastor as marketer, pastor as politician. The church of today has bought in to this vision with little reservation. If people’s expectations for their pastor aren’t met, they jump shipping, shopping for who can deliver what they want. As a result, pastors twist themselves into knots, seeking to satisfy while serving.
But Peterson’s vision is so very different, so counter-cultural, so radical. He envisions himself as an unbusy pastor. A pastor who has the time and energy to listen to the stories people are telling about their lives. A pastor who has the time and energy to listen to the story God is telling. A pastor who has the time and energy to connect the two.
I am reminded of Moses, rebuked by his father-in-law Jethro for being too busy to represent the people to God and represent God to the people. I am reminded of the Apostles in Acts, appointing deacons so they they wouldn’t be too busy to give themselves to prayer and study of the word. I am reminded of myself, too busy to pray, too busy to listen, too busy to think, too busy to care.
The Pastor is a wonderful affirmation of the kind of pastor I am trying to be – unbusy, gentle, patient.
As I read Peterson’s memoir, I kept expecting the chapter where he would tell the juicy stories, air the dirty laundry, and show the scars of battle. But it never came. A time or two he hints at an awkward situation, but this is not a book about how to deal with conflict or the crazy people in your church. He doesn’t let on about any sleepless nights he might have had over the people in his church or if he walked around with a pain around his heart like I have for years. 
He doesn’t see people as problems. As a pastor, he is not a therapist. He sees his role as listening to and loving people. He isn’t a pastor to fix people. He is a pastor to call people to worship God. And this results in his profound and overwhelming gentleness.


Gentleness doesn’t come naturally to me. I am sarcastic. Really sarcastic. I admitted to the folks at Vintage a few years ago that often, I don’t really even like people. Hyperbole? Maybe, but still a liability for a pastor. It is in this that Jesus has made all the difference. His life and ministry were all about people, meeting them where they are and having conversations with them. Full of grace and truth. What I am not naturally, I am pursuing for the sake of Jesus whom I follow. Peterson’s memoir gives me a good look at what that might look like in today’s American pastorate.
And Peterson’s vision of pastoral ministry is one of patience. He co-opted the phrase “a long obedience in the same direction” from Nitzsche, and I have co-opted it from him to describe my life of following Jesus. People don’t change overnight. Churches don’t have to be big and effective in two years time (if ever). Pastors don’t have to have all the answers, right here and right now. We can be patient with others, with our communities, with ourselves.
When we started Vintage, there was all kind of pressure to “succeed” immediately, to be big, to make a big impact … like the shape shuttle launching. I spent the first few years of Vintage’s existence feeling guilty that we were not bigger, not more than we were. But I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not in a hurry. It’s not that I am apathetic; I have a strong sense of urgency that Jesus would be exalted in us. But I’ve grown patient with us. The journey we are on is a long obedience in the same direction.


Pastoring Together
There was one other wonderful theme in The Pastor that resonated deeply with me – that pastoral ministry is not done alone. 
Peterson speaks repeatedly and with reverence for his life-companion and wife Jan. Jan viewed her role as pastor’s wife as a vocation, a holy rite to be discharged through hospitality and care. Jan reminded me of Vanessa. I’m a lucky guy.
Peterson’s other companions in ministry are other pastors. He describes a diverse group of pastors that begins to meet on Tuesdays. They call themselves the Company of Pastors. They encourage one another, talk and pray. And they continue to meet decades later. The Company of Pastors made me miss the Pastors Theology Roundtable, a group of guys in Michigan that met every couple of months to talk shop. I need that in my life again.

I cannot grow up to be Eugene Peterson, nor do I want to be. I want to be myself and develop, by God’s grace, into the pastor that God created me to be. But I am so thankful to have Peterson as a mentor-from-afar, a role model, a friend. He has pastored me.


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